1. Mallory, tell us a little bit about yourself, your site and your personal mission statement for fashion.
My name is Mallory Whitfield, I’m currently 27 and I live in New Orleans, Louisiana. I grew up nearby on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I run a blog and online shop, both called Miss Malaprop, and both centered around handmade & eco-friendly products, including jewelry, accessories, clothing, bath & body, home decor and more.
I’ve always loved fashion, but I’ve never really been big on trends. I’ve always loved learning about fashion history (I majored in history, originally with the intention to work as a fashion & textiles curator in a museum). I’ve always been more interested in what real people wear than who the latest hot designer is or what’s being seen on celebrities or on the runway. Before personal fashion blogs became really popular, I remember scouring the Internet trying to find street fashion sites, back when there were just a handful and they were all in Japanese. I try to live by the rules of quality over quantity, and I prefer to spend a little more on good stuff by small brands and indie designers than to have a ton of cheap, fast-fashion crap.
I’ve always had an interest in environmental issues – I started a neighborhood environmental club when I was in 4th or 5th grade. After experiencing the destruction and aftermath caused by Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures here in New Orleans and the MS Gulf Coast, I think my passion for the environment was definitely reignited. I wanted to do something to share what was going on down here, and I also wanted to learn more and do more personally. That’s basically how my blog started in 2006, just a few weeks before the 1st anniversary of Katrina.
Writing my blog over the past 5 years, I’ve learned a lot about various environmental issues, and I’m still learning every day. I try to transform that knowledge into actionable change in my own life – I’ve definitely gotten a lot better about carrying my own shopping bags for instance. (Due in part to the discovery of these great fold-up style bags by brands like Envirosax and b.b.begonia – which I carry in my online shop)
The quality of handmade goods has spoiled me as well. Occasionally I’ll still go to the mall just to see what’s there (usually with my bestie, Ashe of dramatis personae), but so much of what’s there just seems so poorly made and over-priced. A couple of years ago I went, right around New Year’s Eve, desperately wanting to find something new to wear for the occasion, and I couldn’t find ANYTHING I liked. Finally I just took it as a sign, went home, and ordered a dress I’d been coveting by Ureshii – one of my favorite indie designers.
3. How did you get into making your own clothes?
In high school, I did a lot of community theatre, so we’d have to make our own costumes. My mom had a sewing machine and knew basic sewing, so I would help her make my costumes, but I also started getting interested in learning how to transform some of my old clothes. I’d been doing various crafty things as long as I can remember, and had done a little hand-sewing in the past (making Barbie clothes and stuff), but I had her teach me the basics of using the sewing machine, and the rest is history. I started out mostly experimenting with t-shirts and denim – these were things that were plentiful and in need of some revamping in my closet. I quickly decided denim was my favorite material to work with – it’s really sturdy and since it doesn’t stretch a lot, it’s easy to sew with.
One of the first pieces I ever made was with this crazy vintage dress my mom had found at the flea market. It was REALLY 70s bo-ho, a little too much for me, so I took it apart and attached the bottom of the skirt to some denim shorts, and added some ribbon detail. I turned the top of the dress into a blouse, tailored it a little and added some applique to that.
Even now, I still haven’t had a lot of formal sewing training – I’ve sort of learned most of what I know on my own by taking things apart and putting them back together. (See past creations here and current stuff for sale here)
I’m really proud of some of the more experimental, nontraditional pieces I’ve done. I won 3rd place in an upcycling contest that Etsy held in 2007 for an outfit I crafted from FEMA blue tarp, that could be seen all over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina.
I also participated in a series of recycled fashion shows here in New Orleans, called Worn Again, where designers would get presented with a random trash bag full of old clothes and fabric scraps. I participated as a designer for the first 3 years they did it, managed to win 2 honorable mentions and then for the 4th year I was asked to be a judge. One of the years I did this fun, sort of Harajuku inspired outfit using a puffy winter vest and some mattress batting. The next year I did probably my biggest and most complicated creation to date – a tribute to the Mardi Gras Indians here in New Orleans. They are amazing craftsmen, who spend all year long working on these incredibly intricate costumes. They’ll create big pieces totally covered in hand-sewn seed beads. I didn’t have time to do that (though I still want to do something like that in the future), but I did do a LOT of hand-sewing of sequins to try to get a similar effect.
I’m also pretty proud of the costume I made for myself for this past Mardi Gras – a dress covered in stuffed animals. Again – I went with my favorite sewing material – I used a denim halter dress I found at the thrift store as a base for my creation!
5. What is your dream pair of denim (if it exists, share that. If not, tell us what it would look like)?
Do I have to pick just one? Seriously, my love of denim extends past sewing – I really am a t-shirt and jeans type of girl most days. For going out at night, I love my grey GAP skinny jeans. (Okay, so Ashe has referred to them as “jeggings” but I refuse to let that one slide!) For every day wear, especially with the warm climate here in New Orleans, I wear a lot of my own denim skirt creations. I tend to not spend a ton of money on jeans, but the one pair of premium jeans I ever bought, by AG, I LOVED and wore to death. When they finally split just under the back pocket, I refused to let them go to a grave, and turned them into a skirt instead. The skirt is still going strong!
6. If you had one personal tip for DD readers who wanted to jump in deep with DIY denim fashion, what would it be?
Keep it simple. I think the Denim Wrecks feature here is proof positive there are just some things you should not do with denim. And with anything, it’s better to have a strong foundation in how to work with the materials before you try to go too crazy anyway.
When I’m sewing with denim, I tend to do a lot of laying everything out flat on a table and pinning before I actually start sewing. I like to leave a lot of unfinished edges – I like the distressed, well-loved look – but I also like the seams I do sew to be nice and even and clean.
- Stop buying bottled water. Seriously, the stuff is evil, not to mention a huge waste of money. Check out the documentary Tapped if you need reasons: http://www.tappedthemovie.com/
- Support your local economy. Shop at your local farmer’s market and encourage your grocery store to support local farmers. Support locally owned stores and service businesses. Money spent with locally-owned businesses has 3 times the impact on your community that money spent in big box chain stores does. (http://staylocal.org/facts/why/) Vote with your dollars.
- Vote. Really, really vote. And when you feel strongly about an issue, tell your elected representatives. There’s no point in living in a democracy if you’re not going to act on it.
For more ideas, check out this recent post on my blog, inspired by a Facebook post a friend of mine did.